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Inside the Hospital Room of the Future

Prototype designed by NXT Health relies on sensors, video displays, communication technology, but above all a mission critical network powered by Pakedge. >

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It wasn’t too long ago that Stephen Cannella spent three long weeks in a hospital room.

As a young man, it was bad enough that he was out of commission with a severely broken leg but the hospital room environment provided insult to injury. “It was like being trapped,” he says, describing the lack of creature comforts and ill-conceived room designs.

“I would have liked things like being able to consult with my family doctor through a web chat. I would have liked to have been able to listen to Spotify without my network being throttled because some IT guy doesn’t think my entertainment is important enough.” 

Then there’s the larger issue. If streaming Spotify is a strain, how reliable are the mission-critical—life or death—elements of a typical patient room that rely on the hospital’s network.

As an AV systems designer, Cannella, managing partner at Paramus, N.J.-based Synapse Audio Visual Designs, realized there are ways to improve hospital room technology and in doing so also improve patients’ experiences. He got a chance to prove that when Synapse was brought into an innovative health care project by renowned health care design architect David Ruthven of Birdtree Design. 

Design think tank NXT Health set out to build a prototype hospital room with architecture, products, technology and medial processes designed in unison. It teamed with Ruthven and Clemson University’s Healthcare and Architecture Graduate Program.

Current Networking Products Deployed in Hospital Room 2020
K60D router
W7R access points [4]
S24P16av managed switch

Networking Product Upgrades in the Works
WX-1 wireless-AC access points
SX-24P Layer 2 managed switch with Zone Wizard

What’s most striking about the room dubbed Patient Room 2020—besides the stark white look and feel of the room intentionally so to increase color contrast and minimize exposure to infections—is omnipresent technology.

Health information is strategically shown on displays meticulously placed where doctors are working rather than on an ill-placed monitor. Touchscreens, for instance, are mounted into walls behind multi-use folding mechanisms so they’re there when doctors and nurses need them but not taking up useful space otherwise.

Space-sensing LED lights remind health care professionals as they enter a room to wash their hands. Seems trivial? Not to the 100,000 folks each year who are affected by health care professionals not washing their hands, according to AllGov.

In Patient Room 2020, technology is everywhere you look whether you see it or not. “Technology has to become the connective tissue that holds together the continuum of care,” says Ruthven in a Wired interview. “Because there is infinite variability between physical environments.”

Beyond the life-or-death impact of the solutions integrated into the prototype hospital room there are less critical elements—ones that former patient Cannella knows can sometimes seem just as important to those confined to a hospital bed.

Photos: Inside Patient Room 2020

For the integrator, “designing this space gave me a chance to give back,” Cannella says. “I was able to offer my unique insight into things like how high the TV should be and how hard would it be for an [injured patient] to press a particular button”—seemingly simple aspects that through his experience he knows are significant.

“We were able to build a space that offers the comforts of a living room in the surrounds of a hospital room. We integrated touch control, a TV with access to web content and the ability to bring other doctors into a conversation via a web cam and streaming audio from either an Apple TV or Autonomic media streamer.”

Meanwhile, many of the solutions designed into Patient Room 2020 are anything but simple and offer major health care benefits. “We found ways to use wireless technology, proximity sensors, weight sensors, a lot of biometric sensing,” Cannella says.

Sensors and corresponding displays, for example, makes it easier for health care professionals to keep records of patient activity and improving overall care.

The space also includes more clinical and patient-protective technologies with elements such as infection control through RFID notifying people when they haven’t washed their hands or haven’t washed them long enough; and targeting accident reduction through use of touch sensors throughout the room that will send an alarm to a command station in the event of a perceived emergency.

Networking Challenges

Network viability and reliability are vital to just about every aspect of Patient Room 2020—to the sensors, to the touchscreens and to the critical information being communicated. The clever dinner tray that flips over to become a handy touchscreen interface for patients and doctors, for instance, is useless unless the network provides an ability to use it to record information, use it to video consult with other doctors or collaborate over test results. 

Synapse leaned on Pakedge networking solutions in part because its IT networking solutions are designed for AV and because they offer an ability to prioritize types of network traffic.

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